Friday, July 12, 2013

Another episode of Who Bombed Syria?

Making the rounds this week is discussion of a massive explosion that took place last Thursday in the Syrian port city of Latakia. Latakia is still controlled by Bashar Assad's government; in fact, it is populated with Alawites. Latakia is also next to the ancient port of Tartus, which is the base for the Russian Mediterranean Fleet. Latakia is his primary entry point for supplies. So what was destroyed? Russian missiles. And who destroyed them? Well, that is an interesting question:
Foreign forces destroyed advanced Russian anti-ship missiles in Syria last week, rebels said on Tuesday - a disclosure that appeared to point to an Israeli raid.
Qassem Saadeddine, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army's Supreme Military Council, said a pre-dawn strike on Friday hit a Syrian navy barracks at Safira, near the port of Latakia. He said that the rebel forces' intelligence network had identified newly supplied Yakhont missiles being stored there.
"It was not the FSA that targeted this," Saadeddine told Reuters. "It is not an attack that was carried out by rebels.
"This attack was either by air raid or long-range missiles fired from boats in the Mediterranean," he said.
Rebels described huge blasts - the ferocity of which, they said, was beyond the firepower available to them but consistent with that of a modern military like Israel's.
Israel has not confirmed or denied involvement. The Syrian government has not commented on the incident, beyond a state television report noting a "series of explosions" at the site.
According to regional intelligence sources, the Israelis previously struck in Syria at least three times this year to prevent the transfer of advanced weaponry from President Bashar al-Assad's army to Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.
Such weaponry, Israeli officials have made clear, would include the long-range Yakhonts, which could help Hezbollah repel Israel's navy and endanger its offshore gas rigs. In May, Israel and its U.S. ally complained about Moscow sending the missiles to Syria. Israel said they would likely end up with Hezbollah. The Lebanese group has said it does not need them.
"Foreign forces," huh? Now who might those forces be? Israel? That seems obvious, but Syria says otherwise:
Al-Qaida was responsible for the massive arms depot explosion in Latakia over the weekend, a Syrian official said on Sunday. Syria denied Israel's role in the incident after Arab media outlets reported conflicting stories on the cause of the blast.
"The attack in Latakia was not carried out from the air or the sea, but by a terrorist group aligned with al-Qaida," a senior Syrian official told Syrian state media. "The group fired missiles of European design that caused large fires in the bases."
But the obvious does seem to be true:
In a recent report from investigative journalist Richard Silverstein at the Tikun Olam blog, confidential sources within the Israeli military establishment revealed to him that the alleged bombing of a weapons depot in the Syrian town of Latakia, – which sits beside the Russian controlled seaport at Tartous – was an Israeli operation, targeting advanced Russian-supplied defensive missile systems (S-300 or Yakhont), an operation that included the direct assistance of opposition militants inside Syria.
Silverstein’s Israeli source specifically states that members of the FSA coordinated with the IDF and engaged in a diversionary rocket attack at the time of the Israeli airstrike. The previous Israeli attack in Damascus; when rebels were on hand to film the event, bears similar hallmarks to the attack in Latakia, yet, contrary to the previous strike, there has been no footage to date of the explosion, and Syrian journalists I have contacted have confirmed that there are no Syrian media reports on recent large-scale explosions in Latakia. The anti-Assad activist the “Syrian Observatory for Human Rights” has reported briefly on the incident and claimed Syrian soldiers were killed, and the blast could be heard kilometres from the alleged strike-zone.
Even more obvious is the fact that it' s in Assad's interest to deny Israeli involvement lest he look weak to Arabs all over the Middle East. Plus, there is this:
Assad has vowed to retaliate for any new Israeli raids after Israel destroyed Syrian weapons destined for Hezbollah in early May, and if Assad asserted it was Israel this time he would box himself into action he may not want to take.
But Israel has issued warnings of its own. Russia has been sending advanced missiles to Assad. Israel politely asked them to stop:
Israel warned Russia just this May not to arm Syria with missiles.
"At this stage I can't say there is an escalation. The shipments have not been sent on their way yet. And I hope that they will not be sent," said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon last May . But "if God forbid they do reach Syria, we will know what to do."
Though Yaalon's warning was about s300 anti-aircraft missiles, the anti-ship missiles at Syria's port could easily threaten Israeli or American ships operating in the Mediterranean.
Funny, I just heard something about those S-300 missiles:
The Free Syrian Army claimed Monday that the Israel Air Force had destroyed a warehouse holding Russian S-300 anti-aircraft missiles east of the city of Homs in western Syria. The rebels' claim has not been corroborated by any other independent source.
In a Facebook post titled "The new Israeli strike," the rebels alleged that "the brave Syrian regime has conceded that a new Israeli strike targeted a warehouse containing Russian S-300 missiles and launchers. The facility was located in the al-Qassia camp, near the town of al-Hafa, east of Homs."
The post further insinuated that the attack was meant to stop the Free Syrian Army from seizing the advanced weapons system.
That would seem to be rather odd motivation on Israel's part. Some interesting analysis, if you can get past the obvious anti-Israel bias, from Phil Greaves of Global Research:
The Israeli government has no concern for Syria or its people, it will happily pour fuel on the fire and enable warring factions to shed further needless blood to achieve its desired strategic objectives. As Jonathon Cook noted recently, the “optimal scenario” for the Israel military would be for the Syrian war to totally divide the state, resulting in a de-facto “balkanization”. It makes perfect sense that to achieve this, Israel are in the same position as the United States, they are looking to “level the playing field”.
Actually, Israel is very concerned about Syria. They are sick of having the threat of Syrian invasion just across the Golan Heights. But if they cannot get a Syrian government who will agree not to attack them then the second best solution is to keep the civil war ongoing. The job of the Israeli government is to care for the Israeli people, not the Syrians.
Following recent statements from Russian diplomats vowing to honour advanced weapons contracts, along with claims from Assad that the shipments had begun to arrive in response to the previous Israeli airstrike upon Syria, – which targeted elite Syrian military divisions stationed in the Qassioun Mountains in Damascus – it appears Israel may have acted upon the threat of attacking Russian weapons that “tip the balance” in the region. In reality, the result of Syria acquiring such advanced systems will diminish Israel’s ability to violate its neighbours sovereign airspace at will, and in turn, commit acts of war unhindered.
As if Israel's neighbors have no history of committing acts of war against Israel, eitjher directly or through proxies (cough! cough! Hezbo'allah cough! cough! Hamas). But this is the real juicy part:
The media silence surrounding this alleged attack is disconcerting on several levels. Firstly, if indeed Russian supplied advanced weapons (either the Yakhont Surface to Sea, or the S-300 Surface to Air systems) – that will undoubtedly be accompanied by Russian military personnel – have been attacked, why is Russia silent on the issue? Have Russia given the Israeli’s guarantees that retaliation will not be forthcoming? Aside from this theory, there is the distinct possibility that an emboldened Israeli military now feels it can strike targets within Syrian territory with impunity; particularly considering the half-hearted response from Russia (and the “International Community”) to Israel’s last act of war upon Syria.
Furthermore, if Israel has indeed carried out this strike and knowingly hit targets that Russian troops may be alongside, are Russia even willing or able to retaliate? Lets not forget, a war with Israel is almost a guaranteed war with the United States. Of course, to these powers this is a game of chess, and Israel like to play in the dark. Could Russia and Israel both be engaging in covert strikes against each other? Mysteriously, an Israeli F-16 “crashed during routine training” over the Mediterranean on Sunday, a mere two days after the alleged strike in Latakia; it is no secret Russia has been building a huge Naval presence in the Med.
In summary, if it is true that Israel has targeted Russian advanced systems, and all the implications that follow, Russia and Syria could be remaining silent for three reasons: firstly, out of embarrassment and an unwillingness to appear weak through lack of ability to retaliate; secondly, one of the parties is complicit; thirdly, they plan to retaliate in kind, ie: a covert operation. The only other explanation is that the strike in Latakia simply did not occur.
And so ends another episode of Who Bombed Syria? 

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